Friday, December 31, 2021

Celebrity Deaths 2021, Or Death DOESN'T Take A Holiday

As it is every year, Death just can't seem to take a holiday. In fact he's been even busier than usual in 2021, what with the whole pandemic thing still raging along at full steam, with no signs of ever stopping. 

This year proved that neither fame nor fortune makes one immune to Death's icy touch, as there were hundreds of celebrities and public figures who met their makers in 2021. Here's a partial list of the most notable ones. 

Note that there were many more high profile celebrity deaths this year than the ones I've listed here. I'm only including the ones I recognize or who had an impact on my life. Also, I previously covered the January obits in an earlier post, but I'm including them here again in the interest of completion.

Tanya Roberts
Died January 4, 2021 at age 65.
1980s pinup queen, best known for her roles in The Beastmaster and Sheena and That 70s Show

Sadly, great confusion surrounded Roberts' death, as her manager released a press statement announcing she'd died, but her partner Lance O'Brien claimed she was still alive. Ultimately her death was eventually confirmed.

Gregory Sierra
Died January 4, 2021 at age 83.
A staple of 1970s sitcoms, Sierra had a recurring role as Julio Fuentes on Sandford And Son. I loved him on that show, especially his run-ins with main character Fred Sandford. 

He was also a regular on Barney Miller, playing Detective Sergeant Chano Amengual.

Deezer D
Died January 7, 2021 at the much-too young age of 55.
Best known for playing Malik McGrath on ER, where he appeared in 189 out of the show's 331 episodes.

• Siegfried Fischbacher
Died January 13, 2021 at age 81.
Nothing much to say about him, other than he was one half of famed Vegas act Siegfried and Roy. Sadly, his partner Roy Horn died last May of Covid.

• Mira Furlan
Died January 20, 2021 at age 65.
Croatian actress best known in the U.S. for playing Ambassador Delenn for five seasons on Babylon 5

• Hank Aaron
Died January 22, 2021 at age 86.
I don't know anything about baseball, but even I've heard of Aaron and am aware of why he's famous. His 755 career home runs broke the long-standing MLB record set by Babe Ruth— an achievement that stood for thirty three years.

• Larry King
Died January 23, 2021 at age 87.
King was of course the, er, king of radio and TV hosts, as he conducted an estimated 60,000 interviews during his lengthy career. His show Larry King Live debuted in 1985, and became one of the longest running series on TV, airing until 2010. 

King was famously married a whopping EIGHT times, to seven different women. Oy vey!

Hal Holbrook
Died January 23, 2021 at age 95.
Holbrook had a long and illustrious career, but was likely best known for his portrayal of Mark Twain in a long-running one man show on Broadway.

Bruce Kirby
Died January 24, 2021 at age 95 (!).
Kirby was a prolific character actor, and one of the best "Hey, It's That Guys" in the business, racking up nearly 150 guest appearances in movies and TV in a career that spanned over fifty years.

Chloris Leachman
Died January 27, 2021 at age 94.
Leachman had nearly 300 credits in her resume, and amazingly she was still working right up to the time of her death. 

She played Timmy's mother in the first season of Lassie (before being replaced by June Lockhart), as well as the mother of the superpowered Anthony Fremont in the It's A Good Life episode of The Twilight Zone.

She was best known though for her role as Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

Cicely Tyson
Died January 28, 2021 at age 96.
Tyson started out as a fashion model, before making the transition to acting. 

She guest starred on numerous TV shows for nearly two decades. Her big breakthrough came when she starred in the theatrical film Sounder, as well as the TV movie The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman.

I vividly recall seeing Miss Jane Pittman on TV as a kid, but sadly I've not seen a lot of her other work. She always impressed me though, as she seemed very regal and elegant.

Dustin Diamond
Died February 1, 2021 at age 44.
Best known for playing Screech Powers on the various iterations of Saved By The Bell. Sadly, he was plagued by a host of personal demons in his adult life.

Christopher Plummer
Died February 5, 2021 at age 91.
Although he's best known for The Sound Of Music, to me he'll always be the Shakespeare-quoting Klingon General Chang from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!"

Larry Flynt
Died February 10, 2021 at age 78.
Controversial publisher of Hustler magazine.

Rush Limbaugh
Died February 21, 2021 at age 70.
Mom always told me if I can't say something nice about someone, then don't say anything at all, so...

Yaphet Kotto
Died March 15, 2021 at age 81.
Kotto had a long and industrious career, but I'll always remember him as the ill-fated Parker from ALIEN.

George Segal
Died March 23, 2021 at age 87.
Segal excelled at playing neurotic leading men in the 1970s, and racked up hundreds of credits in movies and TV in a career that spanned five decades.

Jessica Walter
Died March 24, 2021 at age 80.
Another celeb with hundreds of credits, but she made a real mark for herself as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development. "Everything they do is so dramatic and flamboyant. It makes me want to light myself on fire!"

Beverly Cleary
Died March 25, 2021 at age 104 (!).
Famed children's author and writer of the Beezus And Romona books.

John Paragon
Died April 3, 2021 at age 66.
Member of the improvisational troupe The Groundlings, and was also a writer and director. He was likely best known for playing Jambi on Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Walter Olkewicz
Died April 6, 2021 at age 70.
You've likely never heard his name, but you'll definitely recognize his face. Olkewicz was a prolific character actor, and another one of those, "Hey, It's THAT Guy" performers.

Jim Steinman
Died April 19, 2021 at age 73.
Another name that's not a household word, but if you were around in the 1970s and 1980s you definitely heard and even sang his music on long road trips. 

Steinman specialized in power ballads with wordy titles, writing songs for Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler. Among his hits: Bat Out Of Hell, You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad, Paradise By The Dashboard Lights and Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

Walter Mondale
Died April 19 at age 93.
Former Vice President under Jimmy Carter. Ran for president himself later, but lost to Ronald Reagan.

Felix Silla
Died April 26, 2021 at age 84.
Prolific character actor and little person, best known for playing Cousin Itt on The Addams Family, as well as the phallic-headed robot Twiki on Buck Rogers In The 25th Century.

Billie Hayes
Died April 29, 2021 at age 96.
Another actress with a ton of credits, she was most famous for playing Witchiepoo on HR Pufnstuf. She also played Weenie The Genie on Lidsville.

Johnny Crawford
Died April 29, 2021 at age 75.
Child star who began as a Mousketeer, and later co-starred as Mark McCain on The Rifleman.

Bobby Unser
Died May 2, 2021 at age 87. 
Three time Indy 500 winner.

Tawny Kitaen
Died May 7, 2021 at age 59.
Model turned actress/TV personality. Sadly in later years she became addicted to plastic surgery, and ended up looking positively alien.

Norman Lloyd
Died May 11, 2021 at age 106!!!
Wow, 106! That's a pretty good run, and you can't ask for much more than that. Amazingly, he was still working all the way up into 2015! Among his many credits were starring roles in St. Elsewhere and Dead Poet's Society

He also designed and constructed the Lloyd Expressway in my hometown (Ok, I may have made up that last part).

Charles Grodin
Died May 18, 2021 at age 86.
Deadpan comedian who specialized in curmudgeonly characters. Among his many roles, he appeared in Rosemary's Baby, Catch-22, King Kong (1976), Thieves, Heaven Can Wait, Ishtar (!!), Midnight Run, Beethoven and Clifford.

Mark York
Died May 19, 2021 at age 55.
Not the most famous name on this list, but he'll be instantly recognizable to fans of The Office— in which he played Billy Merchant, the wheelchair-bound owner of the Scranton Business Park.

Gavin MacLeod
Died May 29, 2021 at age 90.
Few actors are lucky enough to be in one popular, long-running TV series. MacLeod was in two— The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat.

Arlene Golonka
Died May 31, 2021 at age 85.
Another staple of 1970s & 1980s TV, appearing on M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, One Day At A Time and many others. She also did a lot of voice work for Hanna-Barbera.

F. Lee Bailey
Died June 3, 2021 at age 87.
Famed defense attorney who was involved in a number of high profile cases, including the Sam Sheppard, Boston Strangler and Patty Hearst trials. 

Clarence Williams III
Died June 4, 2021at age 81.
Although he had many other credits, he'll forever be linked to The Mod Squad, in which he played, er, Linc!

Ned Beatty
Died June 13, 2021 at age 83.
Instantly recognizable character actor who made his debut in 1972's Deliverance, and racked up hundreds of credits over the years in movies and TV. Despite all that, he'll always be Otis to me though!

Frank Bonner
Died June 16, 2021 at age 79.
Best known for playing Herb Tarlek on WKRP In Cincinnati

Tarlek was famous for his comically gaudy polyester suits. His character really hit home for me, as I worked for a boss with a very similar fashion sense, and often joked that his suits were from the Herb Tarlek Collection.

Richard Donner
Died July 5, 2021 at age 91.
Prominent director who helmed such major hits as The Omen, Superman The Movie (my personal favorite of his work), The Goonies and Lethal Weapon.

Fans of superhero movies owe Donner a huge debt of gratitude. Before he came along, comic book were considered kiddie fare, and live action adaptations were always low budget, campy affairs. Donner took the genre seriously, and insisted on playing Superman The Movie absolutely straight, casting big name actors and insisting on a large budget with top-notch special effects. He created the template for comic book films, and the MCU would not exist without him.

Robert Downey Sr.
Died July 7, 2021 at age 85. 
Actor & director, and not surprisingly, the father of Robert Downey Jr.

Charlie Robinson
Died July 11, 2021 at age 75. 
Nothing much to say about him, other than he was best known for playing Mac on Night Court.

Willam F. Nolan
Died July 15, 2021 at age 93. 
Another celeb who's not a household name, but he nevertheless had an impact on my life. Nolan co-authored the sci-fi novel Logan's Run, which was later turned into a major motion picture. Both the book and the film are personal favorites of mine.

Jackie Mason
Died July 24, 2021 at age 93.
Famed deadpan Borscht-Belt comedian.

Dusty Hill
Died July 27, 2021 at age 72. 
One third of Texas rock band ZZ Top.

Ron Popeil
Died July 28, 2021 at age 86.
Another staple of the 1970s and founder of the Ronco company, which hawked dozens of dubious products such as Mr. Microphone, Veg-A-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman, the Rhinestone Stud Setter and the Smokeless Ashtray.

JW Rinzler
Died July 28, 2021 at age the far too young age of 58.
Another fairly obscure author who had a major impact on my life. Rinzler wrote a series of highly detailed, exhaustively researched behind-the-scenes book on popular movies such as A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, ALIEN, ALIENS and the original Planet Of The Apes.

Markie Post
Died August 7, 2021 at age 70 (!). 
Although she had a lengthy list of credits, she was best known for playing Christine Sullivan on Night Court.

Jane Withers
Died August 7, 2021 at age 95.
Actress & comedian who began as a child star on the radio, and went on to a career that spanned an incredible SEVENTY YEARS. Likely best known for playing Josephine The Plumber in a series of Comet commercials throughout the 1960s & 1970s.

Alex Cord
Died August 9, 2021 at age 88.
Guest star on many a TV series in the 1970s & 1980s.

Richard Lee-Sung
Died August 16, 2021 at age 91.
Another busy character actor, Lee-Sung played a whopping ELEVEN different roles on M*A*S*H, as he was their go-to guy whenever they needed a Korean local— even though he was born in Texas!

Sonny Chiba
Died August 19, 2021 at age 82.
One of the first actors who achieved stardom through his martial arts skills. He gained fame in Japan, but eventually became well known in the States as well. Best known for starring in The Street Fighter. Sadly, he died of Covid.

Chuck Close
Died August 19, 2021 at age 81.
Painter of massive, photorealistic portraits. While I'm not a fan of photorealism, I admire his chutzpah, as he was paralyzed in by a medical condition in 1988 and had to learn how to paint all over again by holding the brush with both hands.

Charlie Watts
Died August 24, 2021 at age 80.
Rolling Stones drummer from 1963 until his death.

Ed Asner
Died August 29, 2021 at age 91.
HIGHLY prolific actor, who appeared in literally hundreds of movies and TV shows. He did a fair amount of voice work as well. He rose to prominence playing Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on, er, Lou Grant!

Michael Constantine
Died August 31, 2021 at age 94.
Another busy character actor, likely best known for his role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Willard Scott
Died September 4, 2021 at age 87.
Scott started his career playing a truly terrifying, cup-nosed Ronald McDonald. Best known as  The Today Show's jovial TV weatherman, a position he held for decades.

Norm MacDonald
Died September 14, 2021 at age 61.
Standup comedian, writer and actor, known for his dry wit and deadpan style. Rose to prominence as the Weekend Update anchor on Saturday Night Live

More recently, MacDonald voiced the amorphous blob Yaphit on The Orville

Gavan O'Herlihy
Died September 15, 2021 at age 70.
(In)Famous for playing Chuck Cunningham, the eldest son on Happy Days— who went upstairs to "study" and was never seen or even mentioned again. 

His disappearance spawned a condition known as "Chuck Cunningham Syndrome," in which the writers dispense with a TV character by having them unceremoniously vanish.

Melvin Van Peebles
Died September 21, 2021 at age 89.
Highly talented Renaissance man who was an actor, filmmaker, playwright, novelist and composer. Best known for writing, directing and starring in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

He was also the father of actor Mario Van Peebles. 

Jay Sandrich
Died September 22, 2021 at age 89. 
Directed many a fine TV series of my youth, such as Get Smart, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Soap, Night Court and in later years, The Office.

David DePattie
Died September 23, 2021 at age 91. 
Co founder of DePattie-Frelang Enterprises, which produced the Pink Panther cartoons.

Tommy Kirk
Died September 28, 2021 at age 79.
Child star who was a staple of early Disney films, such as Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent Minded Professor and Son Of Flubber

As he aged out of those roles, producers attempted to bill him as a teen heart throb in beach pictures, including Pajama Party, Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, It's A Bikini World and Catalina Caper.

Michael Tylo
Died September 28, 2021 at age 78.
Soap star best known for playing Quentin Chamberlain on Guiding Light.

Alan Kalter
Died October 4, 2021 at age 78.
Long-time announcer on Late Night With David Letterman.

Joanna Cameron
Died October 15, 2021 at age 73.
Best known for playing the superhero Isis in the 1975 TV series The Secrets Of Isis.

Evan as an awkward teen I could tell the show was a blatant attempt at cashing in on the popularity of ABC's popular Wonder Woman series. Despite this, I was quite enamored with Cameron and her natural charm and beauty.

Sadly the name of her character and the show hasn't aged well, as it was co-opted by the Islamic terrorist group, and is unlikely to be shown anywhere in our current hyper-sensitive society.

Betty Lynn
Died October 16, 2021 at age 95.
Although she had many other credits, she was best known as Thelma Lou, long-suffering girlfriend to Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Although it seems like she was a regular on the series, she only appeared in 26 of the show's 249 episodes!

Colin Powell
Died October 18 at age 84. 
American general who became Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, and later Secretary Of State. Died of complications from Covid.

Peter Scolari
Died October 22, 2021 at age 66.
Rose to prominence co-starring with Tom Hanks in the 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies. Best known though for his of the alliterative-spouting Michael Harris on Newhart. Another of my personal favorite performers on this list.

James Michael Tyler
Died October 24, 2021 at age 59.
Although he had other credits, he's likely best known for playing the lovesick Gunther on Friends.

Dean Stockwell
Died November 7, 2021 at age 85.
Prolific actor who starred in movie, films and the stage, in a career that spanned an astonishing SEVENTY years!

Stockwell started out as a child star, appearing in films such as The Boy With Green Hair and Kim. As an adult he starred in Dune (1984), Paris, Texas, Blue Velvet and Married To The Mob, among many others. 

Stockwell's likely best known for his role as Al in the TV series Quantum Leap.

Art LaFleur
Died November 17, 2021 at age 78.
Reliable character actor, and another of those "Hey, It's That Guy" guys. Best known for his roles in The Sandlot and Field Of Dreams.

Lou Cutell
Died November 21, 2021 at age 91. 
Yet another prolific character actor. Among his many, many roles, three stand out for me: the alien Dr. Nadir in Frankenstein Meets The Spacemonster, Amazing Larry in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Dr. Cooperman (the "Assman") on Seinfeld

Stephen Sondheim
Died November 26, 2021 at age 91.
Famed Broadway composer with a ton of credits. Best known for writing the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy, among many others.

Eddie Mekka
Died November 27, 2021 at age 69.
Best known for playing Carmine Ragusa, aka "The Big Ragoo" on Laverne & Shirley (the character also appeared a couple of times over on sister show Happy Days). Mekka also had a memorable part dancing with Madonna in A League Of Their Own.

I'm embarrassed to say that as a teen I thought the character of Carmine was the ultimate in cool, and tried my best to imitate him (!). I stopped short of singing Rags To Riches every time I entered a room though.

Bob Dole
Died December 5, 2021 at age 98.
Long serving Republican senator. Ran unsuccessfully for president in 1980, 1988 (losing to Bush 1.0) and again in 1996 (losing to Bill Clinton).

Mike Nesmith
Died December 10, 2021 at age 78.
Popular musician, songwriter, actor, producer and novelist. Best known as a member of The Monkees— a manufactured pop group/boy band designed to cash in on the popularity of The Beatles. 

As a kid I was a big fan of The Monkees in general and Nesmith in particular. For some reason I thought he was the coolest guy I'd ever seen, and actually started wearing a sock cap wherever I went to emulate him. That plan didn't last long, due to my school principal's psychotic views on wearing a hat indoors, which was apparently the greatest sin a student could possibly commit.

Anne Rice
Died December 11, 2021 at age 80.
Author of wrote gothic fiction, erotic literature and Christian novels (!). Best known for her book series The Vampire Chronicles. Two books from this franchise were turned into feature films— Interview With The Vampire and Queen Of The Damned.

Sally Anne Howes
Died December 19, 2021 at age 91.
Best known for her role as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Nicholas Georgiade
Died December 19, 2021 at age 88.
Georgiade (pictured at left above) rose to prominence playing Agent Enrico Rossi in The Untouchables TV show. 

He also had a small part in the epic comedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. With his death, there's now only one cast member from the film who's still alive— Barrie Chase, who played the girlfriend of Sylvester Marcus.

Desmond Tutu
Died December 26, 2021 at age 90.
Famed South African bishop and anti-apartheid activist. 

John Madden
Died December 28, 2021 at age 85.
Head coach of the Oakland Raiders for ten years. After retiring from coaching he became a color commentator for the NFL, and lent his name to the John Madden Football videogame franchise.

Alas, Death just couldn't resist and had to take a parting shot at the world before the year ended. And what a shot it was, too!

Betty White
Died December 31, 2021 at age 99.
Beloved actress with over 120 film and TV credits, in a career that spanned an incredible SEVEN decades! White was best known for her roles as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and as Rose Nylund On The Golden Girls. She was nominated for a whopping seventeen Emmys, and won seven over the years.

White's career got an unexpected boost in 2010, when she starred in a Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. In the spot she portrayed a touch football player who "played like Betty White" till he ate a Snickers bar.

The ad introduced her to a whole new generation of fans, who petitioned for her to host Saturday Night Live later that same year. 

White was married to game show host Allan Ludden for eighteen years, till his death in 1981. She was also a fervent animal rights activist, working closely with various charities. 

Sadly, White died just seventeen days short of her 100th birthday. On the plus side, she was still in good health and in full control of her mental capacities, which is always a plus at that age. She reportedly died peacefully in her sleep, which is the best possible way to go.

Still and all, screw you, 2021!

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